Anxious dogs are quite common as human lifestyles changed: owners now live in smaller spaces, lead sedentary lives, and leave pets alone at home for most of the day. The easiest way to calm your distressed pup is to spend more time with them! But sometimes even the best owners need a hand, so here are some tools to relieve the tension.
These work by providing gentle compression to a dog’s body providing the feeling of a constant tight hug. Studies have found that many dogs find this sensation soothing and relaxing. You can use this on a dog any time you feel they are experiencing stress or anxiety such as a thunderstorm, vet visit, or car trip.
Calming treats can help calm down an overexcited brain through the use of naturally calming ingredients. Remember that even natural ingredients can have adverse effects, and there are two to watch out for. Valerian is taxing on the liver and should not be used on puppies or dogs under 10lbs. Melatonin directly affects a dog’s sleep cycle and should be avoided except at bedtime. Please use calming treats sparingly—they are not a substitute for exercise and training.
Please do not diffuse essential oils in a house with pets or use essential oils directly on your pet. Almost all essential oils are toxic to animals in the air, ingested, and on fur or skin. There are many ignorant people and businesses trying to push essential oils into the pet market. A very small drop of lavender or chamomile essential oil on the Scent Patch of a ThunderShirt is safe. You may also try a carefully formulated calming spray such as Sentry Calming Spray.
Agility classes are intensely stimulating and fun for both you and your dog. This type of structured exercise builds confidence in your dog while teaching you how to communicate and read your canine. Although any kind of dog can participate in agility classes, working breeds like Border Collies, German Shepherds, and Dalmatians seem to benefit the most. It is best to try a class where there is a qualified agility teacher and a full agility course setup, such as the services offered at Kat’s Training Tails.
A structured socialization class helps challenge dogs mentally. Mental exercise can wear out a dog as fast or faster than physical exercise. Regular socialization keeps a dog calm and helps it play well with other dogs throughout its life. A good socialization class is not a dog park—it is a highly controlled environment with trained supervisors. A socialization class is also not an obedience class—the focus should be social behavior not tricks or commands. I use a local group that employs the Pack to Basics technique and it has been a lifesaver for highly anxious dogs.
Should you use a dog park with an anxious animal? Only if supplemented with structured socialization classes. The danger of dog parks is the high number of irresponsible owners and untrained dogs. Anxious dogs need help relating to other dogs and you will need to be their guide and protector. One traumatic experience (such as getting bit by an aggressive dog) can set progress back months. Watch your dog closely and don’t be afraid to speak up to lackadaisical owners.
Much has been written about the proper way to walk a dog. Most owners don’t walk their dogs enough. Most owners don’t walk their dogs correctly. Dogs tend to lead the way with the owner at the canine’s mercy. While there is nothing wrong with letting your dog roam a bit in short spurts, most of the walk should be highly structured and led by the human. This controlled environment exercises the mind as well as the body. And for their own safety, dogs should not be accustomed to wandering off after new smells or wild animals.
The number one problem I encounter with structured walks is a dog who pulls so hard that they 1) drag their owner around and 2) damage their own trachea. Fortunately we have solved this problem with modern innovations. A few tools to nip pulling in the bud will guarantee many enjoyable walks for years to come.
Over-the-counter melatonin is one of the easier ways to encourage sleeping in both cats and dogs. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland when the body is attempting to sleep. Animal rescues now use melatonin to help anxious or jet-lagged rescue animals. However animal usage of melatonin is fairly new, and the right dosage is a matter of trial and error.
It would be difficult to fatally overdose on melatonin, however caution should always be exercised. Melatonin should not be used long-term because the body will stop making its own melatonin and cause a dependency on the supplements. Side effects of a melatonin overdose include: headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, diarrhea, joint pain, anxiety, crankiness, and inability to sleep without melatonin.
The only type of melatonin safe for dogs is a basic tablet completely free of xylitol and other artificial sweeteners. Xylitol and similar sweeteners are toxic to many animals. Xylitol will be listed on the ingredients list, and it is generally present in chewable or dissolvable tablets.
Dosage of this supplement is a tricky business, but the basic recommendation is 1mg for every 10 pounds. Usually the smallest tablets come in 1mg, so for a small 5 pound animal you would cut that tablet in half. Some dogs will eat anything and will chew a tablet straight. For a more finicky canine, wrap the tablet up in a teaspoon of peanut butter or use a Pill Pocket.
Some puppies have trouble adjusting from the warmth of sleeping with mom and litter to sleeping in their own beds. There are a few ways to replicate the warmth of comfort to help the baby animal adjust. Please do not skimp on any electrical heating device or use unknown brands. There are many Chinese, Russian, and Indian companies producing cheap copycat pet products, but the products are not regulated and can be extremely dangerous to your pet.